In Kanazawa

This awning fronting a store on Hirosaka speaks volumes about the character and elegance of Kanazawa.
Old, New, Traditional, Contemporary
The Noto Peninsula is part of Ishikawa Prefecture and Kanazawa is the seat of the prefectures government.  Even before the opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen route from Tokyo in March this year (see  feature ), Kanazawa has always been a favoured tourist destination for the Japanese and now for an increasing number of overseas visitor, too.  It’s easy to see why because of its history, its well preserved traditional buildings and crafts as well as Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most prestigious gardens that even attracts visitors in the winter.

Along Hirosaka....
That’s not to say that Kanazawa is not a modern city too.  It has an abundance of facilities and a large industrial presence enhanced by its easy access to the Japan Sea.
A number of Japan’s tradition crafts are well represented in Kanazawa including the making of gold leaf, a material often used in the decoration of true lacquerware.

Not far from Kenrokuen is a tree-lined street called Hirosaka.  It is along this avenue that you will find a highly respected supplier, not only of true lacquer but also of a number of tools and decorative materials that are essential to the true lacquerware craftsperson.

Hiroyuki Oka is the present-day Managing Director of Nosaku Urushi Inc. and it is well worth a visit to see some of the fine pieces of mostly traditionally styled true lacquerware on display.  At one end of the ground floor showroom is, however, a counter from where tubs of true lacquer and other materials can be purchased.

If you should be interested in a more contemporary style of this fine craft, please make time to visit the Colony Gallery and Workshop at the northern end of Hirosaka street.  Here you will find work by local craftspeople including pieces of novel true lacquerware by Yoshinori Shibayama, who also runs the gallery.

A selection of Mother-of-Pearl slivers.

Some of Yoshinori's novel work.
So just what is special about this pond?

Architecture becomes art....
Then not far from here, in fact just around the corner, is a facility of which Kanazawa is rightly proud.  The 21st. Century Museum of Contemporary Art is as much a work of “art” itself as the pieces which are on display.  It is a total experience—the spaces and forms are interesting, and the features could almost be called conceptual or environmental art.  Even the sky is a performer and the illusionary pond is beyond conceptional art—enough said.  You need to see it for yourself.

But have traditional crafts and contemporary hardware melded in Kanazawa?  Well, yes they have in a somewhat unusual manner.

A selection of the traditional craft inspired products.
Asahi Electric Co., Ltd, a manufacturer of industrial IT equipment, has for some time been involved in the product development, production and marketing of items making extensive use of some of Japan’s traditional crafts.  Drawing on as many local crafts as possible the Senior Managing Director,Tomohiro Sunasaki and his team have endeavoured to use traditional craft techniques and motifs principally to decorate memory sticks and mobil phone cases.

In every case the handmade qualities of a craft have added appeal and value to the products and they have a worldwide market, even selling at such prestigious outlets as the British Museum in London.

The Chinese market has been one of the more successful adventures for Tomohiro’s team with, of all things, a mobile phone case depicting a Geisha seen from behind, holding a traditional umbrella and dressed in a kimono, against a backdrop of a pagoda and cherry blossom.  To me this is something of an anomaly but clearly appeals to people as an iconic symbol of Japan and its culture, even in China, one of Japan’s closest neighbours.  In fact, the traditional crafts of Japan are littered with such motif that have been used in some cases for hundreds of years.  They will, no doubt, continue to be used in a design vocabulary that is so intrenched that it is difficult for any contemporary designs to make their mark.  One has, in fact, made an appearance in the Asahi Electric traditional crafts range.  And that is Kitty Chan or the Hello Kitty motif.

A tea caddy by Yoshinori Shibayama.
Somehow this too is rather strange and yet who can deny the popularity of a product carrying such a motif.  It’s a new “tradition”.  It’s no different to a Micky Mouse watch.  But despite their failing popularity the continued existence and making of so many traditional craft products in Japan is quite extraordinary.  They are a standard of excellence against which modern products and indeed crafts themselves can be judged.

Today traditional Japanese craft skills and motifs are just one of the components of an enormous design lexicon available to creative individuals.  In the hands of a designer in some instances “old” is “new” and “new”—with perhaps a retro leaning—is “old”.  Even something “traditional” in character can be regarded as contemporary in certain circumstances.  Or a mix of local and foreign designs and motifs creates something entirely new and original.  The permutations in the modern world are endless, exciting and help to define who we are, wherever we live.

More images below.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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It is possible to try on a Noh costume at the Kanazawa Noh Museum.
Photos by courtesy of Brendan James Meighan

Yoshinori Shibayama at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in the open-roofed cloud gallery.

Yoshinori's gallery and workshop, Colony.

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